A series of email exchanges between the Crossville Chronicle and the spokesperson for the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission has left us scratching our heads as we try to understand from where the state agency is coming.
It started with a simple press release from ABC Deputy Chief Law Enforcement Agent John Pallas, announcing the arrest of 17 suspects by ABC law enforcement agents who were conducting a state sting operation targeting online liquor sales.
The press release noted that online ads on Craigslist and other social media outlets were the target of the sting operation, and that agents seized 69 bottles of alcohol that were sold to them on street corners, parking lots and places of business.
We did not know this was becoming an issue and were not aware of online sale of alcohol. It was good to see that the ABC agents were vigilant in protecting the state from being cheated of sales tax and the public’s potential exposure to “unknown health risks.”
“Without proper permits and licenses, unscrupulous sellers may produce fake or otherwise counterfeit products and sell these products to unsuspecting consumers. It is impossible for an alcohol manufacturer to guarantee the integrity of their product if it is sold outside the regulatory framework provided in federal and state law.” The press release also sounded the alarm about underage sales of alcohol via online transactions.
Sounds reasonable, and we wanted to know more about this sting operation. Was anyone from Cumberland County involved in the sting? Any folks with ties to Crossville arrested?
So we asked, and this is the response we received: “We are not releasing the identity of the suspects or any of their personal information. I can provide you with a breakdown of what part of the state the enforcement action took place if that helps.”
Our response was that we were unaware that Tennessee had secret courts and arrests. We recognize state law protects investigative files and we respect that, but if someone is actually arrested and charged, our readers have a right to know who and how and why.
Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, was contacted and her response was what we believed, “If someone has been charged with a crime, the name of that person is a public record.”
We sent a response back stating as much and the response was, “As cases are filed, I am certain that the courts will make information public.Since many of our cases are on-going investigations, we will not be releasing the identity of those charged at this time.”
We cry foul. If the issue is important enough to issue a statewide press release, and person are arrested, then the investigation is complete as far as with these individuals.
Fact is, we don’t even know if the investigation reached into Cumberland County. It appears we won’t know under ABC’s present policy. We do not know if the charges are misdemeanor or felony. With the information we received, we don’t know for sure arrests as a result of online alcoholic beverage sales took place.
Should we ever learn more and should we find out the identity of anyone local involved in the sting operation, we will pass this news on to our readers.